rental – Michmutters

Owner of seven properties says landlords getting a raw deal

Andrew Duggan owns seven homes, but he wants people to know he’s not a bad bloke.

He’s been flipping properties in Queensland from a home office in Sydney for 25 years and seems acutely familiar with the public perception of landlords.

“Landlords are very unpopular people,” Mr Duggan said.

“There’s the perception of the evil landlord, the cinematic slum lord idea.

“And there’s a perception that landlords are sitting on piles of cash and sitting around on our yachts.

“The reality is whilst we have the titles to these properties, they’re very much mortgaged.”

Man wearing hi-vis shirt mowing the lawn outside.
Landlord Andrew Duggan is considering getting out of the property game.(ABCNews/7.30)

He insisted he was not doing an interview to “cry poor”, but despondently declared “the good times for landlords are over”.

A long-time advocate of buying up real estate, he’s considering selling up and getting out of the property game.

Mr Duggan said the decline of his lucrative portfolio began five years ago when he was locked into an excessive interest rate with a major bank.

But he is also critical of tenancy laws and state-based land taxes.

After years of advocacy from housing organisations, the Victorian, Tasmanian and ACT governments have recently banned landlords from evicting tenants without grounds.

Man trimming a hedge.
Andrew Duggan says he doesn’t want to “profiteer from our tenants.”(ABCNews/7.30)

Queensland, where most of Mr Duggan’s properties are located, also banned the practice, except at the end of a fixed-term rental agreement.

“As far as I can see, landlords have next to no rights and tenants have all the rights. It’s kind of swung a long way in that direction and it’s probably swung too far,” he said.

Mr Duggan said the “default” position of civil courts adjudicating disputes between property owners and their renters was that “the property owner will always lose”.

He said he had increased the rent in at least one of his properties over the last year due to the increase in Queensland’s land tax.

“I’m not a charity, that’s for certain. I think we’re very fair with our tenants. We don’t want to profit from our tenants, but we do want to create an equilibrium between our incomings and outgoings so we’ re not going backwards,” he said.

This couple rent their apartment out for 10 per cent less than it’s worth

A man wearing glasses smiles next to a woman wearing a black top.
“We didn’t want to do what other people had done to us,” landlords Thomas Shafee and Katrina Alcorn say.(ABCNews/7.30)

When Thomas Shafee and Katrina Alcorn bought their own apartment and left the rental market five years ago, the Melbourne-based couple were overwhelmed with relief.

“As tenants [before owning a home] we have been in some situations with great landlords and we’ve been in some situations with terrible landlords,” Mr Shafee said.

“We’ve had uncertain housing in our lives too,” Ms Alcorn added.

With the pair now considering starting a family, they considered their one-bedroom Heidelberg Heights flat too small and have decided to upsize, but said they felt “icky” trying to cash in on the tightening real estate market.

Instead, they’ve offered the property up as an affordable rental and listed it for 10 per cent below what they had been quoted by other agents.

A man wearing a striped scarf standing next to a woman wearing a black top.
Thomas Shafee and Katrina Alcorn felt strongly about keeping their property affordable.(ABCNews/7.30)

“When there is so much pressure with the prices going up and the supply going down it’s really easy for people to be forced into situations where they are taken advantage of, so it’s nice to be able to do something that avoids some of those ethical pitfalls ,” MrShafee said.

“We didn’t want to do what other people had done to us,” Ms Alcorn said.

“That’s one of the reasons we feel really strongly about this.”

Mr Shafee said he and his partner intended to be “ethical” landlords and employ a hands-off approach to their incoming tenant.

“This is not some investment item that we’re talking about, it’s something that someone is going to live in, so it makes a big difference how [the property] is going to be run,” he said.

Mr Shafee and Ms Alcorn are renting the property through HomeGround Real Estate, an agency that offers affordable rentals and donates the profits it makes from management fees to Launch, a community housing organization.

Problem ‘just going to get worse’

woman sitting at a table
Michele Adair says “renters just haven’t been valued.”(ABC News: Tim Fernandez)

Renters’ advocate and chief executive of the NSW Housing Trust Michele Adair said state laws were still skewed in favor of landlords because property in Australia was seen as a means of wealth creation rather than shelter.

“There are lots of really good private landlords [that] provide affordable rental housing, but the problem that we have is that renters just haven’t been valued,” Ms Adair said.

“One in three people rent a home today and probably nine out of ten rents at some stage, yet we have had decades of government policy which just really disregards the rights of tenants and their safety and security.

“We continue to have this myth and fallacy pushed by private interest groups who, as we have seen, just continue to push the wealth creation and profit motive.”

Ms Adair said the so-called “motive” had led to the current rental crisis.

“There is no end in sight and without urgent action by all levels of government. The problem is just going to get worse for the foreseeable future and I’m afraid that means years and not months.”

Watch this story on 7.30 on ABC TV and ABC iview.



$70m that renters unknowingly owed to NT government is ‘quietly’ waived

Legal advocates say the Northern Territory government has “quietly” wiped $70 million worth of rental debt allegedly owed by remote residents who didn’t know the debt existed.

The existence of the alleged debt came to light when the Santa Teresa community sued the NT Department of Housing for providing uninhabitable housing stock.

In 2016 the government announced it would countersue the residents taking legal action against them, claiming individual households owed up to $21,000 to the department in unpaid rent.

Australian Lawyers for Remote Aboriginal Rights solicitor Dan Kelly represents the Santa Teresa community and said this alleged debt came “out of nowhere” for residents.

“It was obviously very worrying and distressing,” he said.

“They were under the impression they had been paying their rent as instructed through direct debits.”

Freedom-of-information requests revealed the Territory government alleged the community owed a total of $2 million in unpaid rent but had never pursued the debts.

An Indigenous woman stands in front of a basic dwelling.
Annie Young has been part of the years-long legal fight with NT Housing seeking compensation over unsafe housing.(ABC News: Isabella Higgins)

Debt waiver not publicized

Mr Kelly said the wiping of the alleged debt only came to light because a similar countersuit taken out by the government against residents for Laramba was suddenly dropped early this month at the NT Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NTCAT).

Since 2018, Laramba’s residents have been engaged in legal action against the Department of Housing, arguing they have a right to safe drinking water following revelations theirs contains three times the recommended levels of uranium.

“They announced to the court that the Treasurer has made a determination under the Financial Management Act waiving or writing off any alleged debts,” Mr Kelly said.

“That’s essentially all we know.”

NTCAT heard the decision to wipe the alleged debt was made at the end of June.

In a statement, the government said renters were visited by tenancy officers to advise them historical rental debt up to December 11, 2021 would not be pursued.

The decision to wipe $70 million worth of debt has not been otherwise publicized by the government.

A man wearing a blue shirt with a smiling baby looks at the camera.
The debt waiver came to light when a countersuit against Laramba residents was dropped.(ABC News: Isaac Nowroozi)

‘Failure system’

Mr Kelly said the government’s countersuit against Santa Teresa residents was eventually unsuccessful because “records were unable to support the fact that the amount was in fact owing”.

Wiping these debts means the government can no longer countersue residents who take them to court in this same way, but Mr Kelly said based on the outcome of the Santa Teresa countersuit, it was “questionable” if any debts would have been probable.

“Their records, I think, have been proven to be unreliable.”

In a statement, the government said the rental system was “antiquated” and “ineffective, confusing for tenants and challenging to administer”.

Mr Kelly said the saga surrounding the unpursued and unproven debts was indicative that remote housing policy was “failing” in the NT.

“It’s a policy that failed because Aboriginal-controlled organizations were not part of the conversation and Aboriginal voices weren’t involved in the policy.

“This was money that should have been fixing up houses and making sure they were at a reasonable and comfortable standard.”

Debt forgiven as rent is raised

The decision to waive the alleged debt comes as the government plans to increase rents for many residents in remote communities and town camps as part of the new remote rent framework.

Rent to be raised
The way the NT calculates rent for public housing is changing on September 5.(Supplied)

On September 5 the government will abolish income-based rent setting for these properties and introduce pricing schemes that researchers from the Australian National University found would in turn increase rent for 68 per cent of tenants.

The researchers found rent would increase for 80 per cent of renters in Central Australia and 81 per cent of residents in the Barkly.

“Our view on the new rent system is that it’s not going to work again — it’s been designed without the adequate input of Aboriginal organisations,” Mr Kelly said.

In a statement, the Department of Territory Families, Housing and Communities said the new framework was “simple” and “has built-in safeguards to protect people from rental stress should the rent tenants pay exceed 25 per cent of household income”.

“Consultation on the Remote Rent Framework began in 2018 with key stakeholders including a working group with leaders from the housing sector,” it said.

“Tenancy officers have gone door to door across more than 80 communities to provide information to tenants about the new framework.”



Calls for better government assistance amid booming rental market

Leading housing experts have called for a major overhaul of the government’s rent assistance program, describing the payments to low-income households as “inadequate” while rental costs continue to skyrocket.

An analysis of the scheme by the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI) also found households which were not in rental stress were still receiving payments, while people living in hugely expensive areas were not getting enough.

AHURI managing director Michael Fotheringham said the key issue with the government’s rental assistance was that the payments rose with overall inflation and were not directly linked to rising rental costs or geographic rental trends.

“One of the challenges is that it is not targeted to renters in any way,” Mr Fotheringham said.

“Someone in inner-Sydney has the same amount [of support] as someone in Hobart or Perth.”

His analysis of the system found that the new government could save money if it targeted low-income households in areas where rents had risen significantly.

“Some of the households receiving it are not in rental stress. They are relatively low income but paying relatively low rent as well,” he said.

‘I had nowhere else to go’

A woman wearing a blue jacket.
Andrea Ferris says she gets $47 a fortnight in rental assistance.(ABC News: Eddy Gill)

Single mother Andrea Ferris said rent assistance “barely covers milk and bread” for the week and she was barely able to survive as rents increased.

Rents in Ms Ferris’s hometown, the Gold Coast, have increased 21 per cent in the past year.

With vacancies across the country at record lows, she was forced to settle for a three-bedroom house well out of her budget.

“I had nowhere else to go. It was looking pretty scary, I was looking at moving into a friend’s room with the kids,” she said.

“We came three weeks from homelessness.

“I don’t buy fruit and vegetables. The doctor said my iron is low and asked me if I eat red meat and I said, ‘I don’t. I can’t afford it.'”